Spending on statistical programs is a tiny fraction of overall federal spending: in fiscal 2012, the $6.2 billion in budget authority for all statistical programs identified by OMB amounted to less than 0.2 percent of the budget authority of about $3.7 trillion for the federal government. On a per capita basis, the $6.2 billion is equal to about $20 annually for every U.S. resident (315.1 million as of January 1, 2013; see www.census.gov).
A basic public policy question is the value of the statistical system for the federal government and the public. It is difficult to assign an overall valuation to the system or even to a specific agency or program (see National Research Council, 1985b:Ch. 3, App. 3A). A sense of value can be obtained in some instances by comparing the dollars spent on providing key statistics to the dollars that such statistics drive in the economy and society. For example, the prices and cost-of-living programs of the Bureau of Labor Statistics—including the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Producer Price Index, the Consumer Expenditure Survey, and related activities—had an estimated budget authority of $206 million in fiscal 2012.3 Output from the CPI component of the program is used for annual cost-of-living adjustments to payments for retirees and other beneficiaries under the Social Security Program, which provided $65.4 billion in benefits to 56.8 million people in December 2011:4 a difference of 1 percentage point in the CPI amounts to almost $8 billion in additional (or reduced) Social Security benefits in the subsequent year. Annual changes in the CPI also affect changes in commercial and residential rents, public- and private-sector wages, and components of the federal income tax code. Reports of monthly changes in the CPI are a major input for Federal Reserve Board decisions in setting short-term interest rates and to financial decisions throughout the public and private sectors. There are other such examples of consequential statistics throughout government and the economy.
Some statistical programs may lack clear-cut links to public- and private-sector financial outlays, but they nonetheless serve other important purposes:
• Some programs provide information to inform policy makers and the public about the social and economic health of the nation, states,
3 Available: http://www.dol.gov/dol/budget/2012/PDF/CBJ-2012-V3-01.pdf [February 2013].
4 Available: http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/quickfacts/stat_snapshot [February 2013].